Dorothy Parker once wrote that something was beyond "plain terrible." It was, she said, "terrible with raisins in it." That might include naming a bar-dining spot after the most infamous Dallas resident ever. Not that anyone at Lee Harvey's, a funky place near Old City Park in the Cedars section of South Dallas, will fess up to doing any such thing.
The bar's owner is Seth Smith, a photographer whose studio is nearby. Manager Alan Levy says Mr. Smith wanted to create the kind of place he likes to hang out in, and the name was chosen merely to pique interest. He notes that there is nothing associated with Lee Harvey Oswald in the decor, though he confides that the bar's female pit bull, which patrols the fenced lot next door, is named Ruby. Ramshackle might best describe the place. Originally a house, it is broken up into small rooms, one of which holds a pool table and jukebox. Walls are covered with cheap wood paneling and vintage neon beer signs. Inside seating is limited to three booths and about a dozen bar stools, but long wooden picnic tables dot the dusty front yard. Food is served Tuesdays through Fridays between 5 and 10 p.m. For other times there's a stack of menus from other places, and food can be ordered in.
If you go, do it when the kitchen is open. The blackboard menu is small, usually just eight items, but it includes panini sandwiches, upscale salads and as good a burger as you'll find in Dallas. Chef Greg Hutchison, who also operates his Party Maker catering business out of the kitchen, designed the menu. It is modestly priced and vegetarian-friendly.
A good starting ploy would be to share the mixed green salad ($7.50). A bountiful tangle of excellent greens is generously garnished with avocado and orange slices, toasted pecan halves and matchsticks of jicama. The fruity dressing that just glosses it is nicely balanced. Everyone at the table loved that salad. Heck, we'd even have loved it with raisins. First place among the entrees goes to the half-pound burger ($6), served on a buttery toasted bun. There's nothing special about the trimmings, but one bite and we were all won over by the ultrafresh-tasting and flavorful beef patty. Panini sandwiches ($6.50 with chicken, $7.50 with portobello mushrooms) are the most eye-catching offering. Made with long rectangles of bread, they are cooked in a ridged, waffle-type grill so that they resemble giant ruffled potato chips. They tasted pretty good, too, and we especially liked the garlicky aioli sauces that came with them. (The aioli with the chicken sandwich, front in the photo above, has a nice chipotle pepper bite.) The grilled cheese sandwich on jalapeņo bread ($4.50) had the same ridged pattern as the panini, but we found it pretty ho-hum: not enough jalapeņo to lift it above the ordinary.
All sandwiches came with a huge heap of french fries. They are excellent, but for variety's sake, we wished we'd thought to ask for a few onion rings (listed as an appetizer at $3.75) as a partial substitute. Other appetizers include chips and salsa ($3.75) and chicken or mushroom quesadillas ($6.50). The latter were a bit limp and greasy.
The bartender provided outstanding table service, even bringing small plates for divvying up our shared dishes and changing silverware between courses. I should note, however, that we went early on a slow Tuesday night. At peak times, you couldn't expect him to be so attentive. As part of its publicity program, Lee Harvey's sells T-shirts and gives away key chain tags printed with a map of its location. (You're encouraged to take more than one tag and give extras to your friends.)
Sundays bring "Dog Day Afternoons." Rover is welcome then as long as he gets along with other canines.
Mr. Smith and his cohorts have created a place with such great laid-back ambience, good cheer and good food that it's hard to be unforgiving about the name. What the heck: Sic 'em, Ruby.